Judge blocks seizure of e-bingo machines

Chris Amico Jun. 6, 2008, 9:31am


SACRAMENTO, Calif.(Legal Newsline)--A federal judge has blocked the California Bureau of Gambling Control from seizing electronic bingo machines, saying doing so would cause irreparable harm to the charities that use the devices for a significant portion of their funding.

The Bureau, part of the Department of Justice and following an interpretation of the law by Attorney General Jerry Brown, told charities to stop using the popular machines because they did not use paper cards. The deadline is June 6.

The state allows charities to run bingo halls for fund raising, and in recent years those groups have incorporated flashier forms of the classic game in hopes of drawing bigger and younger crowds. But the machines also look a lot like slot machines.

Indian casinos have complained about them, saying the charities are cutting in on profits, and Brown's office also warned that card rooms were beginning to eye the machines.

Two charities and two disabled individuals, with the backing of game-maker Video Game Technologies, sued the Bureau earlier this week, asking for a temporary restraining order to prevent state agents from taking their equipment.

U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez wrote in his decision that the "plaintiffs have a strong likelihood of success." The e-bingo machines in question, he said, comply with state law because "they provide provide paper bingo cards from which a winning pattern can be determined and they do not operate as slot machines."

Charities and their attorneys asserted that the machines, while displaying animated spinning wheels and other outward trappings of slots, still follow the underlying game of bingo.

Mendez also said the Bureau's interpretation of "card" as something that can only be made of paper "discriminates against disabled individuals in violation of federal Americans with Disabilities Act," something charities also argued in their suit.

"We're extremely pleased by Judge Mendez's decision. This ruling maintains the status quo rather and allows the charities to continue with their critically important fundraising functions to benefit their individual causes," Ravi Mehta, executive director of the California Charity Bingo Association (CCBA) and a lawyer for the charities, said in a statement.

Mendez further agreed with charities that holding off on the planned seizure would do no harm to the state, while taking the machines would severely damage the groups those machines fund.

Reporter Chris Amico can be reached at eyeseast@gmail.com

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